Paramount . . . in Wilkes-Barre?

By Ashley Panko

The chandelier at the Kirby is a scaled-down replica of a fixture in the main lobby of the Empire State Building

Step back in time and picture yourself as a member of the roaring twenties. Are you there? Excellent. If you earned an average income in the 1920s, it would be very common for you to go to the theater for entertainment. And not just any theater either: a movie palace.

Movie palaces of the 1920s were far more extravagant than the movie theaters we know today. They were massive in size–even 1,000 seats would still be considered a small theater–and decorated in plasterwork. The atmosphere of the theater was equally, if not more, important than the film itself.

The architecture of these palaces was often gaudy and modeled after Asian or Middle Eastern design, thoroughly bedecked in marble, chandeliers, and luxurious carpets. Movie-goers felt like royalty in these grandiose establishments.

Finding it hard to imagine such a luxurious movie experience? Well some of these theaters are still around and available to tour, while some others have been renovated as cultural centers for the surrounding area. Even in our own Wilkes-Barre the Kirby Theater was in fact once a Paramount Movie Palace.

Originally opened in August of 1938 as the Comerford Theater, this Paramount movie house was a paragon of excellence within the Wilkes-Barre community. Decorated in art-deco style, the theater was bedecked with fluted columns, spacious lobbies, and rose-colored mirrors which enhanced the romantic mood. Decorations were accented in rich tones of copper and metallic blue, while the centerpiece of a fabulous chandelier hovered above the movie goers.

The first film shown in the Comerford was Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and people flocked to see it. There was an immense media presence and the Wilkes-Barre Record noted that it was the largest gathering of people in Public Square since the signing of the Armistice.

The building of the Comerford, now known as the Kirby Center, was a symbol of local wealth, as well as local pride. The community rallied around it as a physical representation that Wilkes-Barre was a force to be reckoned with.

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